Last week, New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio announced that 2021 would be the last year his Department of Education would administer the public school Gifted & Talented test for placement into Citywide and District programs.
His spokeswoman, Miranda Barbot, clarified:
“We will spend the next year engaging communities around what kind of programming they would like to see that is more inclusive, enriching, and truly supports the needs of academically advanced and diversely talented students at a more appropriate age. We will also engage communities around how best to integrate enriched learning opportunities to more students, so that every student – regardless of a label or a class that they are in – can access rigorous learning that is tailored to their needs and fosters their creativity, passion, and strengths… We will develop new plans for identifying and serving exceptional students and release them for the next enrollment cycle.”
The G&T test is traditionally administered the January before the September when a student would begin school. This means that testing for September 2022 entry should be scheduled for January 2022.
Mayor De Blasio’s term ends in December 2021.
This means that the future of all education in NYC rests not in his hands, but in the hands of the next mayor.
Which means it rests in the hands of the voters.
If New Yorkers want to see high-level educational options continued (and expanded to underserved neighborhoods, like many advocate), they need to make themselves part of the “community engagement and new plan development.”
It’s not enough just to oppose eliminating G&T screening and G&T programs. You have to offer alternatives, especially to those candidates running for office who have no plans of their own and would likely leap upon a popular alternative they can adopt.
As things stand now, the only replacement on the table is what the School Diversity Advisory Group (SDAG) proposed in 2019, the Enrichment For All model.
As I wrote at the time:
I’m all for the arts and more specialty electives. My daughter, a struggling learner, has benefitted so much from being able to participate in student council, where she can show off her non-academic strengths. (Talking; she is very good at talking.)
But the key word here is: Electives. How does being able to take photos, direct videos, and make robots keep boredom at bay during traditional subjects for kids who are reading chapter books in Kindergarten and experimenting with math algorithms in 2nd grade? Because the report isn’t suggesting replacing traditional subjects with the above, is it? It’s proposing them in addition to. That’s what “enrichment” means.
(Dear readers, based on your experience with the DOE, raise your hand if you really believe this department is capable of doing a comprehensive job of identifying students’ interests and then developing mini-courses, more detailed units of study, and electives… centered on those topics… on a citiwide scale for over a million students with a multitude of interests without massive teacher retraining and a huge infusion of funds?)
And this was before the COVID-19 pandemic exposed just how terribly disorganized the DOE truly is!
If “Enrichment For All” is the best an advisory committee can come up with, then it really is up to parents to devise a truly workable solution – for all.
How about universal screening to start? All children are assessed as to their current academic level in the first few weeks of school, and placed in classes accordingly.
We don’t mean they’re given the OLSAT/NNAT test, which involves finding missing pieces to puzzles and spotting tiny differences in pictures – basically Highlights Magazine stuff – but an actual academic assessment. Do they know their letters? Do they know the sounds those letters make? Are they reading small words? Big words? Can they understand what they’re reading? How about numbers? Can they do simple addition? Subtraction? Borrowing? Carrying? Multiplication?
All kids are then grouped based on their knowledge of a given subject.
Ability grouping means no student needs to leave their current school building (let’s not forget that most important educational matter, how much money your child is worth to their school). They’d just go to a different room for some subjects, mixing with a different, diverse group of peers in each. And, unlike G&T testing at 4, after which you’re never tested again, these assessments can happen several times a year, with students fluidly shifting assignments.
Regular assessments, unlike a single test, don’t presume a child is equally gifted in every area. One student may be advanced in math, but behind in reading – or vice-versa. This, of course, would require unshackling the concept of grade levels from age, and the idea that education could ever be one size fits all.
Another option is forgoing a centralized G&T test, where all kids who score above the 97th percentile are treated one way, those who score above the 90th another, and the rest dismissed from the process altogether. What if G&T classes were determined based on a particular school’s population?
In other words, in a school where the majority of children are scoring at the 50th percentile (remember over half of NYC students perform below grade level), those who score above the 75th could be the accelerated class.
No one is saying that a single test given to a child at the age of four is in any way predictive of anything.
As I always tell parents at my G&T workshops: The score is absolutely meaningless.
I have three kids. They all took the test at age 4. One was deemed not gifted, one was deemed gifted, and one was deemed profoundly gifted.
Which one is my weakest student? The gifted one.
Which one just dropped out of high school? The profoundly gifted one.
Which one is in his third year at Princeton? The non-gifted one.
The score is absolutely meaningless. How else could some areas of NYC have over 50% of kids scoring in the top 10th percentile?
NYC isn’t bursting with geniuses. But it is bursting with kids who can do so much more than what the current public school curriculum offers.
All kids have strengths. All kids have weaknesses. All kids deserve an education that’s just right for them.
So, sure, get rid of the gifted label. Get rid of gifted testing. Get rid of gifted programs. But replace them with something better. Something that serves all of our children.
I’ve offered my suggestions. I want to hear yours.
And so does our next Mayor. Because the future of NYC education is up to him/her. Which means it’s up to you/us.